BOGOR, Indonesia: Indonesian Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people, walked free from prison on Friday after serving 10 years for setting up a militant training camp.
Authorities said Bashir, 82, who was never convicted for a direct role in the Bali bombings, would enter a deradicalisation programme amid concerns over his continued influence in extremist circles.
Bashir was picked up by his family and was being driven to his home in central Java, said a spokeswoman for the corrections directorate general at the law and human rights ministry.
Photographs showed him wearing a white robe, white cap and a face mask as he left the prison in Bogor, south of Jakarta.
“Abu Bakar Bashir was released from Gunung Sindur prison at 5.30 am,” spokeswoman Rika Aprianti told reporters, adding that he was healthy on his departure.
Bashir, 82, who is regarded as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a jihadist network with ties to al Qaeda, was imprisoned in 2011 for 15 years for his links to a militant training camp in Aceh province.
After receiving periodic reductions in his jail term, he served 10 years in prison.
Although Indonesian police and intelligence agencies say Bashir was linked to the 2002 Bali attacks and a 2003 attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, he was never convicted for direct involvement and denied any ties.
A conviction for being part of a conspiracy to carry out the Bali bombings was later overturned.
Zulkarnaen, a man believed to be one of the most senior members of JI and involved in making the bombs for the Bali attacks, was arrested last month.
The Bali bombings killed 88 Australians, and the country has pressed Indonesia to ensure Bashir does not incite more violence.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a news conference on Friday that Bashir’s release was “very distressing to the friends and families of the Australians, the 88 Australians, who were killed in the Bali bombings of 2002”.
Thiolina Marpaung, an Indonesian wounded in the 2002 attacks, said she wanted authorities to keep supervising Bashir.
“We don’t know what he was doing in prison,” she said by telephone. “The government has to still assert control over terrorism actors in Indonesia who have been out of jail”.
Bashir pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2014 while in jail.
Eddy Hartono of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency said Bashir would now undergo a deradicalisation programme.
“We’re hoping Abu Bakar Bashir after he’s free can give peaceful, soothing preachings,” he said in a statement.
In the wake of the Bali attacks and with backing from Australia and the United States, Indonesia set up an elite anti-terrorist unit that weakened JI and resulted in scores of suspected militants being arrested or killed.
But other extremist groups have since formed and conducted attacks in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country while only last month police arrested 23 militants, including Zulkarnaen.
Abdul Rohim, Bashir’s son, told Reuters ahead of the release that his father would return to the Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school near Solo in Central Java province, which Bashir founded in the 1970s and whose graduates in the past have been linked to militant networks and attacks.
“He has completed his term. This is purely over,” Rohim said.
Endro Harsono, a spokesman for the school, said he hoped Bashir would continue preaching because his sermons “strengthen our faith”.
JI’s prominence is fading, say analysts, replaced by other Islamic State-inspired groups blamed for new attacks.
Security analysts say Bashir does not wield as much power over JI or other groups, but he could still influence other militants.
“Bashir is an ideologue, his words will be followed and made examples of,” said analyst Stanislaus Riyanta.
(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Budi Satriawan in Sukoharjo, and Colin Packham in Canberra; Writing by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Gerry Doyle and Michael Perry)
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